Georgia Tech faces a dangerous game on Saturday when a Georgia Southern team filled with upset aspirations comes to town. After a heartbreaking season-opening loss to NC State in their first game as an FBS school, the Eagles preyed on Savannah State with an 83-9 victory in Statesboro last Saturday. Former GSU play-by play commentator Brian Murphy joins us to give us some insight into the team traveling north to Atlanta this weekend.
FTRS: Explain the new offensive system under new head coach Willie Fritz. How are the personnel that Jeff Monken brought in adapting to the new schemes?
BM: While the new Willie Fritz system is no longer the traditional triple option, it still involves some of the same concepts. Fritz's offense involves more passing and is kind of like a triple option/zone read hybrid. The personnel left behind by Monken have done a pretty good job with the change. The running backs are still getting their fair share of carries, and the quarterbacks still have to deliver a pitch and make the right read. An obvious change comes with throwing the ball. Georgia Southern hasn't had (or needed) a quarterback who can throw the ball in quite a while. Kevin Ellison is more of the triple option type QB, but has shown over the last year or so that he can throw it when necessary. Ellison has already matched his 2013 total with 2 TD passes on the year. It is a work in progress, but it's not a complete overhaul so that has helped. The receivers have always caught the ball well when asked to and are continuing to do so this year. Kentrellis Showers has 3 TD catches on the year and has moved into a tie for 6th place all time in Georgia Southern history.
FTRS: During Georgia Tech's opener, Georgia Southern seemed to be taking care of NC State pretty easily for most of the game. What happened down the stretch that allowed NC State to come back and pull off the victory?
BM: The N.C. State game was a mixed bag of emotions for Georgia Southern. Things went from great, to good, to great, to bad all in a matter of moments. A couple things happened which undid the Eagles and ruined their shot at an upset. Early on the defense was playing well and even forced a Wolfpack turnover. However, as the game went on, Georgia Southern slowed down and could not keep up that level of play for the entire game. By the 4th quarter, the entire defensive side of the ball was gassed for the Eagles and N.C. State took advantage. N.C. State also did a good job of picking apart the [Eagles' secondary]. They seemed to be playing more prevent and it cost them. The Eagle offense played pretty well for the whole game, but their one turnover came when they drove the length of the field and fumbled inside the 10 yard line. A TD at that point would have put them up 27-10. Instead, the Wolfpack drove down and made it a 3 point game. Another key moment was when Fritz decided to kick a field goal late in the game to go up 6 instead of going for it and trying to take more time. It was a short down and distance, and obviously the Eagle defense could have used the extra breath.
FTRS: What percentage of Georgia Southern fans would you say are nostalgic for the old flex bone formation and spread option packages compared to the percentage that are glad to be seeing a new offensive approach? Do most people not care as long as it brings in wins?
BM: It's hard to speak for all fans. You hear some who talk non-stop about the days under Erk and how that offense was run, but then you hear others who look forward to a more "modern" style of offense. In the long haul, Georgia Southern fans want to see results, and whatever kind of offense brings those results, that's everybody's favorite formation.
FTRS: Every year it seems Georgia Southern is capable of knocking off a big time football program. Last year you succeeded against Florida, and this year you let a heart-breaker slip away against NC State. What is the confidence in Southern fans about the chances of beating Georgia Tech?
BM: Georgia Southern has done a pretty good job of playing the underdog and giant slayer the last couple of years. The win in Florida, needless to say, was monumental. And then to back that up with a near-victory against N.C. State proves that Georgia Southern belongs with the big dogs. It shows that the right decision was made to move up and that Georgia Southern can one day have real success at the FBS level. I'm not sure how confident fans are, but I think they know that they can hang with the likes of Georgia Tech because they have done it before. Most fans, more than anything, can't wait for the day when a Georgia Southern win over a big time opponent is no longer considered an upset.
FTRS: Georgia Southern beat Savannah State in impressive fashion last week. Do you think it was more of SSU being really bad, GSU being really good, or a combination of both?
BM: Last week's win was a good way to wash the N.C. State disappointment out of our mouths and an excellent way to open up the new Paulson Stadium and FBS-era at home. That being said, it was Savannah St. who has been less than stellar in recent years. These two teams met last season in Statesboro, with a final score of 77-9 in favor of the Eagles. I'm no engineer from Georgia Tech, but that puts the Eagles at 160-18 over the last two seasons against the Tigers. I think last week's win was a combination of the high-powered Eagles offense and the fact that they were facing an opponent that is on a current 11-game losing streak.
FTRS: Give me the 3 offensive players Tech fans should be worried about most going into this week 3 matchup.
BM: Kevin Ellison, QB- He is a dual threat QB. He runs really well and has proven that he can throw the ball when asked to. Just when you think you have him figured out, he makes another play.
Matt Breida, RB- All this guy seems to do so far in 2014 is find the end zone. He scored the first TD in FBS history for the Eagles on a 61-yard burst against the Wolfpack and added two more against Savannah St. Three TDs on 18 carries isn't a bad ratio.
Kentrellis Showers, WR- Already mentioned him moving up in receiving history. Already has three TDs on the year. Showers has been a big benefactor of the new offense now that it involves some passing.
FTRS: Do you expect GSU to be successful in defending the option because of past experience with the old offense, or is most of the experience gone from years' past?
BM: The Eagles are well-versed when it comes to the option. They have run it in the past and faced several opponents during their time in the Southern Conference who run it as well (Wofford and the Citadel). Stopping it is a whole different story. Plus the athletes in the Southern Conference don't compare to the ACC. The [Eagles'] front seven, led by leading tackler Edwin Jackson...have been all over the place in the first two weeks of the season. If they can continue wrapping up ball carriers and preventing them from getting to the next level, the Eagles could have some success. Georgia Southern can have times when they don't tackle well and allow big gains after contact. If this is the case, Georgia Tech could be in for a big day.
FTRS: The early line on the game is Georgia Tech -24. Do you think this is a fair line? Finally, give me your prediction on the game this week.
BM: -24 seems a bit much for the Eagles. I think that's pretty similar to the line against the Wolfpack and the Eagles only lost by a point. I think the Eagles will certainly show up in this one, as they usually do in big games. Eagle Nation also does a pretty good job of traveling, so I imagine a lot of Eagle faithful will be in Atlanta this weekend. Not to mention, 39 players on Georgia Southern's roster are from the greater metro Atlanta area, so this will be a homecoming for them. I think the Eagles definitely show up and don't get blown out in this one. But at the end of the day, Georgia Tech will still have the edge, so I think Tech wins by a final of 38-28.